Bates Motel

At first the guy seemed pretty normal, Ginny said. She's trying to find a place to rent in San Francisco that takes pets. She's got a cat and a pug dog. Our daughter is in San Francisco, now, so Ginny has moved back to the city after being away for a few years. She was prepared for its being difficult to find a place to rent, but she wasn't prepared for George, who puts up a "for rent" sign to troll for innocents.

Ginny saw the sign when there was an open house, and George was showing the place. It was his place, he said, but he had moved out of the city after having kids. Now his living situation was nebulous. It seemed he lives with a woman but he never refers to her as his wife. It's just her name and voice on the answering machine, which picked up at both numbers last night when Ginny was trying to find out why George didn't show up at the rental to conclude the deal.

In San Francisco, an apartment usually runs over two thousand, and this one was no exception. It was twenty-three, and George had jacked up the original cash up front demand because of the dog. Pugs are normally much better tenants than are people, so I'd be warier of a terrier myself.

When she called George about seeing the place there was an odd breach of protocol. George said, "I'll just buy you and your daughter and her boyfriend dinner while we conclude the deal." Ginny mentioned it to me and to our teenager, who quipped, "I brought some sandwiches and milk." She was imitating Norman Bates, who was being hospitable to Janet Leigh at his family motel. I didn't want to say much because Ginny is my ex-wife, and it might be inappropriate for me to criticize another man's behavior, when there's an ignoble history of my behavior to compare it to.

But I did mention that when you do business with somebody, there is an expected protocol, and asking somebody to go to dinner with you, when they want to rent your apartment, is not an auspicious beginning for a landlord tenant pact. "On the other hand you might get the rent lowered," I quipped.

"That's what I said," the teen laughed.

"He did include my daughter and her boyfriend in the invitation," Ginny said. But she was already considering the possibility that he might be a fruitcake. Places are so hard to find here that hope often triumphs over objectivity in these matters. So she expected that either he was a nice old guy with a lot of money for whom dinner was of no consequence, or he was a crazy person, who couldn't be trusted with the responsibility of a business relationship.

It didn't occur to her that there was anything to his including her daughter and a boyfriend in the invitation to dinner, other than deflecting any appearance of impropriety. After all she was ready to give the guy a cashier's check for over five thousand dollars to move into his little rental unit. "I'd already told him that she wouldn't be living there," Ginny said, "and that she had nothing to do with the lease."

Last night it was all a moot question because George didn't answer at either of the numbers he'd given her, one of which was presumably a cell. Ginny was caught in traffic and was going to be ten minutes late. She arrived at the house and it was dark. George wasn't there. She tried calling twice more and decided any more effort to call him would be rude, so she left and came back to the apartment, where she is being quartered. He never returned any of her calls.

There was a curious thing about our consideration of George last night. There were two sides to it. On one side we were considering that he might be an alcoholic or in some other way rendered undependable. Anti-social personality comes to mind. On the other side we felt guilty about that, considering it was also possible that something had happened to him. "Maybe he had a heart attack or something," the teen suggested, with genuine concern.

I also felt that we might be wronging a good person. After all, he left a message with my service this morning while Ginny was at the laundromat. I listened to the message He stammered around that he didn't know if he had the right number. I called her and gave her the number he left.

As it turned out, when she met him at the house thinking he would bring a rental agreement, he was not happy with her. In fact, he immediately began to tell her how he had come over with a lamp and chairs, and had waited for her at the restaurant where they were to have dinner ... she had done him wrong already. She knew he hadn't been there and there was o reason he would expect her to know what restaurant he was talking about. She had not specifically accepted his offer to buy dinner. She wanted to get a read on him first, and she had it in spades.

Then he demanded to know, "Who's Dan?" He was upset that another man was in the picture, and he was upset that he wasn't getting to meet the teen. Suddenly it clicked into place that the guy really is a predator. He had projected an entire scenario onto what he assumed to be a woman and child without any male protection. This is typical of a real psychopath. He controls everybody in a scene acted out in his head, and when it clashes with reality, he blames the other people for not playing their roles ascribed in his play.

The kid called it. "Just sandwiches and milk ..." Ginny had tried to check in to the Bates Motel.

There are all kinds of scams, maybe less dangerous than this guy, but who in their own special way are preying on people who lack housing, even when they have the money to pay for it. Ginny went back out today to search. There was a punked out couple taking applications for a place. They charged $30 for each application, which means for a couple it was $60. Ginny did the math -- she's an accountant -- and quickly figured out that they could live in the place and offer it for rent on an ongoing basis, and make as much taking applications on weekends as actually renting it.

She checked and sure enough, it has been on the market for a long time. They make their money taking applications ,and it would appear that there's no branch of law enforcement that polices the people who are running "for rent" advertisements. The more the credit market tightens the harder it is to buy in San Francisco, where an average house is close to a million dollars, and so the more competition there is for rentals. At there's some serious scum collecting in the bottom of the empty barrel.

Posted: Sat - January 12, 2008 at 03:37 PM